In bestowing blessings on each other, we come closer to G-d

D’VAR TORAH — Parashat Naso


By Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

The priestly blessing found in next week’s parashah, Naso, is one that has been an important part of our people’s story for three millennia.  

In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the priests offered this blessing on behalf of G-d to the people. This tradition continues today in many congregations, where those who are descendants of the Kohanim, the high priests, ascend the bimah and bless the congregation. This blessing is also recited under the chuppah, when children are welcomed into the covenant and named, and it is the prayer bestowed upon children by their parents at Shabbat and holy days.

The three benedictions of this prayer are simple and yet incredibly powerful. The words ring in our ears as we consider the many special moments when we’ve heard them. 

I recently came across a story that spoke of the extreme importance and power of these words. 

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It was the eve of Yom Kippur 1945, a few months after the end of World War II. The Klausenberger Rebbe, who had lost his wife and 11 children in Auschwitz, was staying in an Allies-run displaced persons camp in Germany and was preparing himself for the holiest day. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. A young girl came in and said, “Rebbe, I do not have a father anymore. No one will be able to ‘bless me’ before Yom Kippur.” 

You know, it is an ancient Jewish custom that every parent blesses their children on Yom Kippur Eve right before Kol Nidrei. It is one of the most moving and meaningful Jewish experiences: On the holiest night of the year, a parent puts their hands on the heads of their kids and blesses them. 

But that year, so many children were left without parents. So this girl came to the Rebbe saying that she had no parents to bless her and that she wanted somebody to bless her.

The Rebbe put his hands on her holy head and blessed her the way a parent blesses his daughter on the eve of Yom Kippur. With tears in his eyes, he told her how precious she was, what a gift she was, how much he was praying for her bright future: 

“May G-d bless you and protect you. May G-d’s countenance shine upon you and give you grace. May God lift you up and grant you peace.” 

Five minutes later, there was another knock on the door. It was another girl, again without parents, again with no one to bless her before Yom Kippur. Again, the Rebbe went through the same routine. He put his hands upon her head, and he blessed her the way a parent blesses his daughter. 

This repeated itself again and again. The orphans kept on coming, and the Rebbe attended to each of them, as though he was their parent. That eve of Yom Kippur, the Rebbe blessed more than 80 orphaned girls. He placed his hands on each of them and gave them the love, the undivided attention, the confidence children yearn for so deeply.

I love this story and the way it illustrates the power not only of the words of this blessing, but the real power of having someone bestow a blessing on you. 

In the Torah, just before we read the words of the blessing, it says: “Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus, shall you bless the people of Israel.” And following the blessing, we read, “Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”   

Truly, the power of this blessing is that we bring G-d into this world, and we bring G-d close to us, when we bestow blessing upon each other, whether it be these words or others. 

On Friday nights when our family gathers to welcome in Shabbat, we always bless our kids with the priestly benediction.   Over the years, our kids have learned to recite the blessing along with us, and it is really our family — parents and children —  blessing each other.  It is a moment of appreciation and acknowledgement for one another and for life.  

While these are words that are cherished by other faith traditions that read Torah and the Hebrew bible, I cannot help but think about how Jewish these words are, how special it is that our tradition allows us to bestow blessing upon each other. Yes, these are words calling upon G-d to bless us and be present in our lives, but the words, from the very beginning, have been spoken by people.  

Jewish tradition says: We are now the priests. We are able to bless and receive blessing.

On this Shabbat, pause for a moment and offer these familiar words of blessing. Bestow them on those who are closest to you — family, friends, even pets. And open yourself up to receiving blessings, those in the form of words, and those in the form of acts of kindness and love that are all around you.

May the blessings that we bestow and receive help to bring peace to our world.